Down House, Downe

The twisting roads to Charles Darwin’s family house are a lesson in survival in themselves. But once there, the house and gardens feel like a sanctuary. As indeed, they must have done to Darwin, his wife, Emma, and their children. And although on one hand, this has been recreated very much as the family home it would have been…



(this tree, now propped up, was the one the children used to climb out on from their nursery window – the one with the blind half drawn.)

… English Heritage have managed to show how it was also a living laboratory for Darwin’s experiments…

Here’s a recreation of how the lawn would have looked like, parcelled out for plant counting!

And, oh my, here’s a photo of the meadow in which Darwin, with the help of the children’s nanny, apparently tried to sort out how many wild species of plants would have grown naturally…

If you visit, and I would highly recommend it, I suggest you take the garden tour. There is so much you might otherwise miss, such as this ‘worm hole’, the record of an experiment Darwin carried out with his son. It looked like a hole for a washing line to me!…

And definitely see the carnivorous plants – here’s one that’s just caught lunch!…

And it’s not all about science and survival, the garden is really beautiful in itself. It seems Emma was the gardener of the family, and they have tried to recreate what it might have looked like under her aesthetic eye…


But the bit of the tour that caught my creative interest was Darwin’s circular ‘thinking path’. When he was at home, he would walk five laps twice a day…

… and to keep count, because of course he was too busy thinking, he would leave a pebble each time he passed the start point…

… although his children would apparently creep out and either remove one, or add one, so he never quite knew how many times he had gone round! I LOVED this story, and this is how my poem came about …

Walking with Darwin

We’re thought tourists, giggling
on Darwin’s thinking path,
in front of me the husband
jostling his wife,
feel cleverer now?
and they wait for me,
practicing their joke
as I finish my final circuit,
So? they say,
and though I shake my head
as we make our way to tea,
it was on the second round,
only three pebbles
left on the bend,
that I began to feel
lighter,
placing my feet
where he once paced,
until I could guess
when it’s you about to overturn
the world, you would need
something like this,
the sound of laughter,
how even as your children
played, you kept
on the path you started,
the end and the beginning
in one sand circle;
what’s one more round
when not even love
can disrupt the plan?

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